It feels just like yesterday that I was a little kid, whose biggest problem in life was what pool I was going to play at, and which friends would tag along. Where have the years gone?
I’m blessed to have had such a privileged childhood. I never worried about my safety or where my next meal was going to come from. I couldn’t fully grasp the cliche yet remarkably true advice that all parents give their children: ‘enjoy this while it lasts.’
It’s a pity that we as children can’t understand how or why adulthood would be any different. We pledge to never become like those older people: boring, serious, normal, constantly stressed and worried. Why the hell would we ever be like that? Yet that day always seems to come, like death and taxes, and we become plagued by the nonsense which surrounds us.
And they say we grow wiser as we age.
Little Alec had no trouble heeding his parents’ advice. Like most children, my default state was being completely present, living every day to its fullest. It wasn’t that I was unconcerned about the opinion of others, my retirement account, what to post on social media (which didn’t exist), and all the other time suckers we waste energy on. I simply wasn’t aware such problems existed.
Ignorance really was bliss.
Going to a prestigious event, shaking hands with so and so, answering the never ending thread of emails – all the facades we fill our time with because we’re afraid of what will happen if we let go or aren’t in control – is exactly the kind of stupidity that Little Alec warned me about. Indeed they have been the cause of great stress and little satisfaction.
How ironic that we spend our entire childhood longing to be adults, and adulthood trying to be more like children.
Stopping to observe my own habits, I am alarmed at how much of one’s free, non obligatory energy is spent doing things they dislike. We use hindering verbiage to convince ourselves we have no choice. ‘I have to visit my friend today, but I’d really like to spend time relaxing.’ Telling ourselves we can’t do something is the way we justify our actions. I guess we’re all secretly scared of what will happen if we actually pursue the things we say we will.
Now it’s summer time again. A new generation of school children are on break, thinking about swimming pools and friends houses and bbq’s. As I sit here at a small cafe in Cremona, a small quaint town in the north of Italy, I reminisce over how I spent my past summers. About what’s changed since I was a child.
A constant theme comes to mind: they are always centered around work. Starting a new business, building my brand, expanding my team. The last time I experienced summer – a large chunk of time off where I wasn’t achieving, pursuing some unmissable career opportunity, playing poker or making money – was the winter of 2011 when I moved to Parma, Italy. The lack of balance has jaded my view of things and I’ve slowly stopped viewing activities as productive unless they involve making money.
So this summer I’m winding back the clock and aspiring only to be like the kid I was 20 years ago, and taking a full 3 months off. My objective is simple: do as little work as possible.
This is surprisingly hard for me. I love occupying my mind, time and energy with new projects, especially those that I can turn into systematized businesses. Relaxing, reading, napping or simply sitting and thinking have always been difficult for me; I feel like I’m missing out or could be doing more. In the busyness of my daily life, I habitually cram as much as I can into one day. This compulsion makes symptoms worsen, and I sometimes catch myself feeling anxious if 5 minutes goes by and I’m not engaged.
I guess that’s why I’m sharing this with you. I’m assuming I’m not alone here, and that perhaps someone else just needs to hear they’re not alone to make a change. I had that experience this morning watching this brilliant TED talk ‘The Power of Time Off’ by Stefan Sagmesiter, a designer who closes his entire business once every 7 years for an annual sabbatical. It’s a must watch for anyone who feels like there’s something they’ve always wanted to do but couldn’t find the time or courage to take action.
As an exercise and commitment to myself, I’ve made a list of my goals for this summer. (I also have you guys who will now hold me accountable. Hitting ‘Publish’ on this post felt like jumping in a cold pool: I sat there forever, debating whether I should take the plunge).
And as much as possible too! All that ‘productive’ time I spend on my business (plus the inevitable ‘busy’ time which masks the feeling of productivity) will be spent writing. It’s not going to be just about the hours, but the quality and style as well. I’ll be writing stories instead of strategy, and lifestyle blogs instead of business pieces. I may not be great and my stories may never be published.
But that’s precisely the point. I’m doing it for me.
(I worked hard to get to this point, planning out months of poker material in advance. In addition to my poker content however, I’ll likely be sharing a lot more of my personal interests on my blog which include health, fitness, performance, well being, spirituality. Posts like this one are more of what you can expect.)
At the risk of being cliche, I defined my idea of relaxation to encompass a few things: daily writing in a gratitude journal, reading when I have down time (I’m shooting for 5 books), napping, and practicing some creative photography.
I’ve taken measures to control the urge to grind. I’m keeping an ‘Idea Journal’ where I write down every new business venture or opportunity I have, which I plan to revisit in October. It keeps me from getting anxious or feeling like I’m missing out. Simply knowing it will be there when I’m ready helps me unwind.
I’ve nearly filled a page already.
3. Be Spontaneous.
I’m so used to having my entire day planned out and feeling defined by how many items I cross off my list that I’ve closed myself off to random things happening in the midst of the day. I’ve done this with my diet and physique as well, always aiming to be in peak performance and shape for my ego. I used poker as an excuse to keep in excellent form (and yes it helps me immensely giving me a competitive edge), but the truth is I don’t let go enough and enjoy a fine meal when the opportunity comes along.
4. Be Present.
It’s so easy to walk through life like a digital zombie, being absorbed by my phone. Interactions are superficial and reduced to mere pleasantries. What happened to connection?
Today I spent 30 minutes talking to the local jeweler, all in Italian. I learned everything about his production, manufacturing and custom pieces he designs. I’d met him countless times before. Today was the first time I saw him. It’s amazing; people are actually quite interesting if you’re curious.
Being present also means having the awareness to know when to engage and when to slow down. Since my priority is rest, when in doubt I’m going to cut it out.
In these days, like a kid, I want to be open to whatever. If something fun is happening in two hours, I want to jump on board. And the only plan I’m going to make this summer is not to make any.
It’s a shame you don’t know what feels wrong until you feel what’s right. I’ve only been at this a week, but the sense of calm, peace and lightness I feel is the most I’ve had in years.
I guess it’s been a long time coming.
Joining me in taking a break? Have you ever taken a sabbatical. What were the results?
Leave your goals for summer or share your experiences in a comment below.